News / Asia

Pakistan Governor’s Assassination Underscores Societal Chasm

Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Multimedia

Audio

The killing of the governor of Pakistan's most populous province has highlighted the ongoing clash in Pakistani society between secularism and religious radicalism.  Some of that radicalism is fueled by resentment against a privileged and often secular-minded elite who govern the country.

Severe polarization

The death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, allegedly at the hands of one of his own bodyguards, has underscored what journalist Ahmad Rashid called a “very, very severe polarization” in Pakistan.

Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)
Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)

On one side, say analysts, is what is believed to be a comparatively small but vocal and determined group of Islamic radicals, some of them extreme to the point of violence.  At the other is a liberal and, to varying degrees, secular elite. And caught in the middle is the average Pakistani who is buffeted by economic and political uncertainty.

Analyst Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a multiethnic, multireligious society with Islam as a unifying force.  But she says events have caused the country to drift further towards extremism.

"It’s been events over the past 30 years, like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Islamization policies of General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, which has really strengthened the Islamist forces and the more puritanical sects in Pakistan over the more traditional and moderate Sunni sects," said Curtis.

That strength has not translated into popular votes.  When Pakistan has had free and fair elections, the religious parties have fared poorly, picking up only a sliver of seats.  But analysts say their power is in the street, not in the ballot box.

Political power in Pakistan has usually rested with an educated, liberal, and often wealthy elite - at least when the country was not under military rule. With his push to roll back the country’s blasphemy laws, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer epitomized what radicals view as an alarming secular drift in Pakistan.  Kamran Bokhari of the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, says radicals try to capitalize on that resentment against the governing class, as well as deepening economic woes, as a recruiting tool.

Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.
Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.



"Islamist militancy is able to nurture in this country because of that sentiment, because of that idea, this notion that somehow the ruling elite is going to tamper with religion as they know it and is working with the West to do that," said Bokhari.  "So this perception can drive a lot of people. And I can understand the motivation of this individual [the assassin]."

Roots of resentment

But, expressing her own views, Professor Hayat Alvi of the U.S. Naval War College says Pakistanis’ resentment of the government is not over religion, but over the basic issues of daily survival.

"When we had the floods in Pakistan, the devastating floods, a few months ago, it wasn’t religion that the poor were complaining about and secular government ruling them," said Alvi.  "It was that they didn’t get any relief from government emergency forces to give them food, water, and the basic necessities as victims of a major natural disaster.  So at the end of the day, it’s bread, the issue of bread and butter and basic necessities."

Analysts say extremists have penetrated some elements of the government, especially the security agencies.  Some officers of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate have been accused by officials of several governments of backing the Afghan Taliban and anti-Indian extremist groups.

Government's attitute

The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says the government sends mixed signals when some radical groups are allowed to operate unmolested by security forces.

"Unfortunately, when you have confusion at the official level in terms of groups that are conducting terrorist attacks in India - for example, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is allowed to function in society - and are not prosecuted, when the government is not cracking down on these extremist groups, unfortunately, I think, it emboldens the groups and it sends a signal that they’re beyond punishment or they’re beyond the law," said Curtis.

Questions have already been raised in the Taseer killing.  The alleged assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, said he killed the governor because he was a “blasphemer.”  There is as yet no evidence of a wider conspiracy, but analysts have pointed out that Qadri was able to enlist in the Elite Force of the Punjab police and join the governor’s protection squad despite reported warnings about his extreme religious views.  Pakistani officials say Qadri pumped more than 20 bullets into the governor.  No members of the security detail returned fire.

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid